Describe the game, rule systems and constraints, and the social context of play (in other words, the who, what, where, and when of play)
The game is referred to as a board game in some descriptions I've read, but it is also considered a card collecting game. Each player maintains an individual mini board that represents his or her civilization and geographical area. All play takes place on this personal board. The boards are not connected to each other to create one large communal playing board, which is what I think of when I hear the term board game. The game can be played with up to seven players and, from what I've gathered, that is a remarkable feature of 7 Wonders in particular. Allowing for so many players makes it a suitable choice for a game night like the one I attend, where there could be 20 people in attendance on any given night and there is a need to find multiple games of interest to accommodate groups of players.
I wouldn't say that I know all the rules of 7 Wonders after playing one time, but I understand the basic premise as well as the components of play, even if I'm not yet able to grasp any strategies that would help me to win. The game is played in three rounds, where each round represents an "age" of time. The first age is the most rudimentary, but as the game progresses through the ages, tools and resources become more advanced, allowing for growth and expansion of one's civilization. The goal is to finish with the most points; however, point totals can be affected by other players' actions against you. For example, your neighbor can wage a military battle during just one of his or her turns, the damage from which you will suffer repeatedly at the conclusion of each age. Other ways of accumulating points - as far as my understanding goes - come from obtaining victories, building monuments, and accumulating money. The only constraint that I noticed was in a player's ability to build things like theatres and forums. In order to construct any sort of monument, certain raw materials were required. These could be obtained through purchase or trade with a neighboring player. Accumulating resources quickly enough to buy materials and to be able to build was the only strategy that I could discern.
Describe your experience playing the game, and reflect upon key questions, difficulties, surprises, or curiosities that arose through your play
I didn't so much play as "follow along". I have difficulty learning games for the first time as I play them, especially in a group this large. There were six of us playing, where two people had already played before but only one of those experienced players was explaining the rules during our play. I have found that I am more successful being taught one-on-one. When I can grasp the rules and concepts, I tend to enjoy the game more. If I don't "get it" - the measure of which diminishes with each additional player added - it's harder for me to enjoy the game at all, and I'm not very motivated to ask questions when there are so many people playing at once. I'm more likely to just observe. In these instances, and in the case of playing 7 Wonders, I eventually got really bored and stopped listening. I took my turns as best I could, without really caring about the outcome. I focused on a few rules that (I think) I understood and remembered:
- you can only build with materials that you already possess
- collect the green cards because they're valuable at the end
- play a military action in order to subtract points from your neighbors
Other than those three elements, I had no strategy and no deeper understanding of how the game is played. At one point, my neighbor noticed that she was holding too many cards and asked me what to do. I took one of them and tossed it under the table, telling her not to worry about it. Problem solved. In the end, I didn't come in last place, which was a surprise to me since I had not been focusing on building or accumulating money/points. As I mentioned, I only stuck to one rule/playing move that I understood, which was attacking my neighbors with my military. I did this so many times that it resulted in one of my neighbors losing a lot of points. She had been working really hard to understand all of the mechanics of the game and made sure to ask questions before every move she made - exactly what I have no interest in doing. When I caused her to lose so many points, she was really frustrated and I felt pretty bad about it, since she was actually trying to do well. She asked me why I played that way and I revealed that it was based on my only understanding and that I had no interest in playing or winning. This actually annoyed her even more, unfortunately. She was more impressed when I told her that my presence in the board game group was for graduate school, though, and she quickly forgave me. So I think we're still "game friends" because we said we'd see each other at the next game night. No hard feelings, thankfully.
Critique the game's design, established constraints, particular play mechanics, or other limitations that inhibited alternative forms of learning or creative play expressions
7 Wonders requires a very large playing area because each player will accumulate 20+ cards which will all eventually be laid out in front of his or her playing area. There are constraints as to when players can construct monuments and with whom one may trade to acquire raw materials. An effective strategy would involve positioning such trades to happen frequently. I never traded or bought goods because I didn't fully understand how to do so.
Establish connections to course readings, such as learning theory or empirical research, and discuss potential (or actual) implications for this game to learning in formal or informal settings
I haven't found a lot to associate with our readings other than a brief mention of self-determination theory in the Scott Nicholson paper A User-Centered Theoretical Framework for Meaningful Gamification. Here he reminds us of Edward Deci and Richard Ryan's work on motivation. Motivation and engagement have surfaced for me before in the context of this course. When I attend the board game night every week, I observe the engagement of others as well as monitor my own. I am attending because of a course requirement, but I am motivated to learn by observation. What I am less motivated to do is participate in playing games. This tension between my goals and those of the group prompted a player to ask me why I was there this week. I explained it was for school. Nicholson states that "Allowing users to self-identify with goals or groups that are meaningful is much more likely to produce autonomous, internalized behaviors, as the user is able to connect these goals to other values he or she already holds." I value community very highly, so joining this group and attending regularly is already meaningful to me. My own participation is challenging: sometimes painful, sometimes fun, but mostly weird. I am getting to know the other members who show up every week and I am beginning to appreciate what they value about playing games. More to come...